How To Prevent, Diagnose, & Treat Ringworm In Babies
What is ringworm?
Ringworm — which has nothing at all to do with worms — is a contagious fungal infection of the skin. It can be itchy and unpleasant, but it's not painful or dangerous. When the fungus affects the scalp, the condition is called tinea capitis, and when it affects the body it's tinea corporis.
(By the way, athlete's foot is tinea pedis, and jock itch is tinea cruris — all are caused by fungi.) Ringworm shows up most commonly in children over the age of 2, but it's possible for babies and adults to get it too.
What are the symptoms?
If your baby has ringworm on his body, he'll have one or more scaly patches, probably between the size of a dime and a quarter. While the patches don't always start out round, by the time they're about half an inch across, they usually form a scaly ring around a smooth center. As the fungus grows, the ring gets larger, but it usually stops growing by the time it's about an inch in diameter. The rash can be dry or moist, and it can appear almost anywhere on the body.
When the fungus affects the scalp, the rash usually has less of a ring-like appearance. Instead, you might notice either patchy, scaly areas or bald spots on your baby's head. You may also see stubs of hair broken off in the middle of the bald spots.
It's easy to confuse ringworm of the scalp with a much more common infant condition called cradle cap. I, so if you aren't sure what your baby has, ask your doctor to take a look.
Your baby might also develop an area of inflammation, called a kerion, in response to the fungus. It'll appear as a moist, swollen area on the scalp, with pustules (little pimple-like bumps). This will clear up when you treat your baby's scalp for the ringworm.
How did my baby get ringworm?
Chances are your baby got ringworm probably from contact with an infected person or pet. The fungus can also be caught from infected towels, hairbrushes, combs, hats, and other clothing. If he's walking, he could also have picked it up on his feet from toddling around barefoot in an infected locker room or pool area.
Experts think there's some genetic tendency for catching ringworm. And excess sweating seems to increase the chances, too, as it the condition thrives best in humid climates.
How is ringworm diagnosed?
The doctor will probably be able to tell whether your baby has ringworm by looking at his skin or scalp. She may also look at the irritated area under a special light or do a painless scraping of your baby's skin to examine under a microscope.
How should I treat ringworm?
For any unusual rash on your baby, start by talking with his doctor. For ringworm on the body, she'll probably suggest an over-the-counter antifungal cream. You'll need to apply it twice a day, covering an area about an inch beyond the rash.
It usually takes about three to four weeks to get rid of ringworm, and you'll continue to use the cream for a week after the rash is gone. (Some children are sensitive to these creams, so try using just a little bit at first to see how your baby's skin reacts. Consult your doctor for alternatives if your baby develops a different rash in reaction to the cream.) Remember to wash your hands well after you apply the cream.
If your baby has a stubborn case of ringworm, the doctor may prescribe something stronger than the over-the-counter cream. And in some rare cases (rarely), an oral medication is also necessary.
Ringworm of the scalp can be tougher to treat and can take longer to clear up. Your doctor will prescribe an oral antifungal medicine as well as a medicated shampoo. It will probably take at least six to eight weeks to clear up.
Make sure you thoroughly wash your baby's bedding and clothing when you start treatment so that he doesn't get reinfected.
Are there possible complications?
Your baby could develop a bacterial infection from scratching his skin, so it's a good idea to keep his nails short and watch him closely. If you notice that he's scratching, you may want to put little mittens or socks on his hands while he sleeps. Talk with your child's doctor again if the rash doesn't look much better after about a week of treatment.
Should I keep my baby home from daycare?
Ask your daycare provider what the center's policy is on children attending when they have ringworm. Once your baby has started treatment, it should be no problem, but until then, they may or may not want you to keep him at home.
Can I do anything to make sure my baby doesn't get ringworm again?
It's hard to completely protect your baby from ringworm, but there are a few things you can do to minimize his chances:
Help him/her avoid excessive sweating (by not overdressing him, for example).
If he's walking, have him/her wear sandals at pool areas and in locker rooms.
Don't let others (like siblings) share towels, hairbrushes, pillows, clothing, or similar items with your baby.
Check pets to make sure that they don't have any scaly, hairless patches. If they do, take them to the veterinarian for treatment. (In fact, even if a pet doesn't show symptoms, it's a good idea to bring it in for a checkup if your baby keeps getting reinfected.)
If other family members show symptoms, make sure they get treated immediately.
Check to see that shared areas — like locker rooms at daycare — are kept clean.